Saturday, February 21, 2009

The art of winter

I am intrigued by the title of this article in the travel section of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota along with this wintry frozen lake picture:

The editor gave a rather poetic title for the article, "The art of winter", which I borrowed here to be the title of this blog today. The article and the picture are by Kerri Westenberg. Here's the opening paragraphs of the article:

Outside the window, waves lapped the shore and sunrise cast an orange glow over the water. A tree swayed in the breeze.

This was a great winter getaway -- and I was in Grand Marais, not to be confused with Grand Cayman or any number of other grand Caribbean islands. Temperatures in this North Shore town approached minus-10. But who needs snorkeling and nightclubs after a five-hour flight south when there is snowshoeing and fine dining via a five-hour drive north?

I have been to Duluth and the nearby Two Harbors many years ago to set up a shore recording station for a Waverider buoy. Grand Marais will be a few more hours further driving toward northeast. It was late summer when I made the trip and that was a working trip, I certainly did not develop any poetic sense about Lake Superior shore on that trip. I regret that I did not try to enjoy the local charm at the time while I could when I read Westenberg 's description:
. . . while Superior can be lovely in summer, it's in winter that the water shows its moody beauty.
I guess it must be a rather lonesome experience when Westenberg decided to take a stroll on the beach in deep winter. Here are some great writings:
Vapor rose from the water into the chilly air, making the lake resemble an oversized hot tub.

Soon I arrived at Artists' Point, a peninsula of rocks and pine trees cut through with hiking trails. At the tip of the point, bushes hung heavy with ice, the result of spray from rogue waves. An even coating of snow disguised craggy rocks. I took one step and sunk a few inches; my next step found me thigh-deep in snow.

My face felt taut with cold and my fingers started to ache, so I returned to the trees, a shield from the most brutal of Superior's winds. Steely water showed through tree branches, and then at a bend in the trail, the town came into view, a collection of humble buildings hugged by a harbor and a bay. After half an hour of exploring the lake and its rugged shoreline, the vision was almost a surprise -- and a relief.

I admire the author's superb writing skill. She made the severe north American winter alive and poetic. By the way, I assume Kerri is a she. Here's her further adventure "Under a starry sky"

As dusk began to settle, I drove up the Gunflint Trail into the deep woods. I was on the hunt for moose, which often come to the road to lick salt (none that night), and a good cross-country ski trail, which I found at Bearskin Lodge.

I strapped on rental skis under the pale glow of the parking lot and headed out. Deep shadows cast by low-lying lights defined the groomed trails. I aligned my skis with the grooves and set off. Quickly, trees drowned the glow of the lodge.

Under the soft blanket of night, I felt further from the stress of life than I would have felt lying on a hot beach. My legs moving, my arms pulling poles, I was impervious to the subzero temperature.

I first noticed the sky -- black and luminous at the same time, speckled with innumerable stars, some bright, some as faint as distance fireflies -- when I tumbled on a gentle hill and landed on my back.

Now she come to an even philosophical ending:
Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control point to unexpected beauty: You see the night sky because you fell down. You discover the wonder of a North Shore winter because the south, this year anyway, was beyond your reach.
Thanks Kerri, for a great article that makes the north Lake Superior shore in winter poetic and artistic!

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